Piano is a beautiful instrument but there is no doubt about it being a complex and demanding instrument that needs a lot of effort from musician both physically and mentally. Complete control, focus, flexibility and endurance are only some of the many characteristics that professional piano playing demands. Thus it is important for a pianist to keep his/her body in a good shape physically too. Lengthy practice sessions and performances often leave you exhausted and you may face pains and injuries of various sort. However if you perform some essential exercises and stretches on a regular basis, you would find it helpful in making you a strong pianist.
Exercises and Stretches for your Fingers:
For a keen pianist, cramping and paining fingers are common as they go through lengthy sessions and performances with piano. Not only those pro pianists but beginners may even feel their fingers to be aching after practice sessions. Thus it is important to stretch and strengthen your fingers so that you can avoid pain and play with dexterity and comfort on piano. Here are some exercises and stretches for your fingers:
Finger Stretching/Warm-up Exercise: Before you begin playing piano, you should perform this finger stretching exercise as part of your warm-up routine to relax your finger muscles. If your fingers are not warmed up, you will feel them stiff on piano and would feel restricted movement. For this stretch, just close your fingers in hands tightly and hold in that position for 3 seconds; now release. Repeat this stretching for multiple times. Next bend each of your finger independently. When you are done with that, just rub both of your hands together and your finger muscles are now warm-up for you to begin playing.
Finger Independence Exercise: For those who are new to playing piano, one of the important tasks is to develop the skill of using their fingers independently. This exercise would not only help you in developing this kill but would also enhance flexibility and movement of your fingers on piano. For this exercise, you need to lay your hands on piano keys with your right thumb placed on middle C.Block your left hand to hold any three notes of your choice while you use your right hand to play scales. Play different sets of scales and then switch hands. Playing scales is one of the best exercises for pianists. Playing scales with a slow metronome is another helpful exercise for enhancing your fingers’ strength and movement.
Finger Lifting Exercise: As you learn to lift your fingers high, you are not only working on controlled movement of fingers but would also aid in producing a rich piano sound. Raising your fingers high would be challenging especially for your ringer finger but this exercise would prove helpful. Lay your hands on piano keys and deliberately work on lifting one finger at a time quickly before trying to place a controlled finger back on keys. Try to lift the finger higher deliberately and practice this multiple times. This exercise would also warm-up your finger for playing piano.
Finger Strengthening Stretch: For this exercise, you would need a stable flat surface where you can put your hands and spread your fingers apart. Now push down allowing a series of smooth pulses. Now bend your knuckles slightly while trying to keep your wrist relaxed. As you perform this stretch, your finger muscles expand and contract and it would aid in strengthening your finger muscles. Another finger stretching exercise involves making fist with your hand while keeping your thumb wrapped around your fingers. Squeeze gently until you feel no pain but only tightness and contraction of muscles. Hold in that position for a few seconds while breathing deeply. Now release fist and stretch all your fingers outward. Repeat with other hand.
Finger Gripping Exercise: Get any cheap adjustable strength gripping device for your fingers and use it on a regular basis before and after your piano practice sessions. In absence of any such device, you can just hold your hands with fingers spread and try to make claws by slowly and smoothly contacting finger muscles. Next open them up and repeat this exercise. Another device that could be used to enhance fingers mobility and movement while easing up all your tensed muscles is the use of a foamed finger/hand gripper. This device allows you to practice elevated curved hands position.
Exercises and Stretches for your Wrist and Hands:
Apart from fingers, focus should also be on your complete hands comfort, mobility and relaxed action. Some exercises that could prove helpful for all the joints around your hands include:
- Wrist Bending Exercise: For this exercise, you need to fully extend one of your arms in front of you. For instance you extend your left hand, then your right hand should be placed underneath the fingers of your left hand and then pull your fingers back. Now hold in that position for 3 seconds while breathing deeply. Bow have your fingers pushed down towards you. Hold in that position for 3 seconds while breathing deeply. Repeat this exercise with other hand.
- Wrist Rotating Exercise: Have your forearms placed on the arms of any chair so that your wrist gets complete support while you keep your fingers hanging free. Now bend your wrist back and lift hands towards you. Next lower your hands back in the downward position. Repeat with other hand and do this exercise for 5-6 times. Next you keep your elbows at rest and try to rotate your forearms with palms facing in upward direction. Then rotate forearm back again in its original position. Repeat with other arm. Hold your wrist and forearms in rotated position for some seconds before releasing it back over.
Exercises and Stretches for your Elbows:
- Have your arms stretched out on your sides without locking elbows. Now slowly bring your elbows up in a position where your fingers reach and touch the back of your head. Return your arms to their original position. Repeat this exercise for 5-6 times.
- Have your arms extended straight in front of your body without locking elbows. Your palms should be up. Now bend and straighten your elbows. Repeat this exercise for 5-6 times. For additional endurance, add some weights to each hand.
Exercises and Stretches for your Neck and Shoulders:
- Have your head placed on your right shoulder and gently press it in the same direction. While you stretch your neck in one direction, your other shoulder should be in relaxed position. Hold in that position for a few seconds and then release. Repeat for other side.
- Raise both of your arms outward and then upward over your head. Remain in that position and then return them to your sides in relaxing position.
- Place your right arm across your chest straight and gently pull your arm towards the body with another hand. Remain in that position for a few seconds and then repeat with other arm.
- Have your arms in relaxed position along your sides and gently shrug your shoulders towards your ears. Now have your body relaxed and repeat it 5-6 times.
- Deep Breathing is Important! One of the most important exercise for your mind and body to relax is deep breathing. Before you begin your piano practice or recital, you must sit on piano and deep breathe for at least 3 times. This exercise would ease your muscles up and would enhance circulation of blood and nutrients throughout your body.
- Pianists often suffer from problems including carpal tunnel, rheumatoid arthritis and other conditions. If you are suffering from any such condition or are experiencing some unusual sensations, pains, weaknesses, numbness, cold hands, restricted movement or feel any unfamiliar discomfort, make sure you don’t continue with these exercises.
- Even when doing these exercises that needs you to stretch, bend, twist and do other movements, make sure you remain gentle with your body.
- Do not overdo. Do not increase tempo too quickly but do it gradually.
- Remember that your goal for these exercises should be building your strength, enhanced flexibility, prevention from injury and improved technique and performance.
- Practice these exercises regularly in order to get desired results.
Although these exercises are safe for most of the conditions but if you are experiencing any pain or suffer from any specific condition; it would be best to consult your doctor before beginning any such exercises. Do not continue with these stretches and exercises with pain or discomfort. Fluid, smooth and slow movements would make it a win-win situation for you despite of how stressful your routine may be. Follow and practice these exercises on a regular basis and you will witness improvement in your piano playing capacity and overall performance with piano music. These exercises would prove helpful in protecting your longevity as a pianist.